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Last Updated: 2010/12/06
Summary of question
What is the difference between Shia and Sunni?
question
What is the difference between Shia and Sunni?
Concise answer

Although such a topic requires extensive discussion, we shall briefly mention, in two stages (beliefs and laws), those of the Shiite views which are opposed by Sunnis or a group of them:

A) Beliefs: Shia holds that God’s attributes are the same as His Essence; God cannot be seen in this world nor can He be seen in the Hereafter. It is not permissible on His part to punish an obedient and bestow rewards upon an offender. There is no compulsion in the religion. Imamate is one of the fundamentals of faith and the successor of the Prophet must be inerrant and infallible and it is precisely because of infallibility, which is known by none other than God, that the imam (leader) after the Prophet should be appointed by God, the Exalted. The Islamic governments should end up in Wilayah and obeying an oppressive and unjust sovereign is not permissible.

Shia believes that Ahlulbayt in verse 33 of Chapter al-Ahzab refers to Fatima (daughter of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)) and the pure Imams (a.s.).

Shia is of the view the prophets are infallible. They do not commit any sin, whether capital or minor, and whether intentionally or unintentionally; and that they are sinless from the beginning of their life till their last breath. Bada[i], Raj’at (return) and intercession are also some of the Shiite beliefs.

Shia does not consider all the companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) as just. There were different types of people amongst the companions. Some were just and some were hypocrites. Their fatwa (verdict) are not authoritative and valid for anyone.

B) Laws: According to Shiite jurisprudence, Taqiyah (dissimulation), fixed-time marriage, combining between two prayers and visitation of the graves of the infallible Imams are permissible. Shia believes that “Hayya ‘ala Khayril ‘Amal” (Hasten to the best acts which is prayers) is part of the Adhan. The gate of Ijtihad is open according to Shia.



[i] - Change in an earlier divine ruling.

Detailed Answer

The discussion concerning such a topic is very extensive and this answer cannot incorporate all the details. We shall briefly mention, in two stages (e.g. beliefs and laws), those of the Shiite views which are opposed by Sunnis or a group of them:

A) Beliefs and Tenets of Shiite Religion:

1. Although Tawhid (oneness of God) is a principle common between the Shiite and Sunnit schools of thought, Shia believes that God’s attributes are the same as His Essence. (See in this regard: The Mu’tazilite Principles of Faith, question 8864 (site: 8811) ; Types and Degrees of Monotheism, question 1913 (site: 3445) ).

2. According to Shia, God cannot be seen in this world nor can He be seen in the Hereafter. See (Shia and Sunni on Seeing God, question 8408 (site: 8477) ; God cannot be seen as explicitly denoted by verse 54 of Chapter al-Baqarah, question 6477 (site:8498) ; Seeing God, question 5621 (site: 7911))

3. Unlike the Sunnis, Shia holds that it is not permissible on God’s part to punish an obedient and give rewards to a sinner. (In this regard, see: Justice according to Shia and Mu’tazilah No. 5923 (site: 6122) ).

4. Shia does not believe in determinism and compulsion. (In this regard, see: Man and Freedom, question 51 (site:287) ; God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free-will, question 2084 site: 2135) ; Man, Predestination and Free-will, question 1896 (site: 2718) ; Determinism and Free-will, question 2035 (site:2085) ; Rejection of Determinists’ Arguments, 528 (site: 576) ; The Concept of al-Amr bayn al-Amrayn, question 58 (site: 294) and also numbers: 1221 (site1217) and 130 (site:1237) and 1550 (site: 1570) and 2035 (site: 2085) ).

5. The most important Shiite belief is the belief in Imamate. Shia holds that Imamate is a part of the fundamentals of faith and the successor of the Prophet must be inerrant and infallible and it is precisely because of infallibility, which is known by none other than God, that the imam (leader) after the Prophet should be appointed by God and that the Islamic governments should lead to Wilayah.

6. Obeying an oppressive and unjust sovereign is not permissible according to Shia.

7. Shia believes that Ahlulbayt in verse 33 of Chapter al-Ahzab refers to Fatima (daughter of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)) and the pure Imams (a.s.).

8. Shia is of the view that the prophets are infallible. They do not commit any sin, whether capital or minor.

9. Bada, Raj’at (return) and intercession are also some of the Shiite beliefs. For further information, see: Bada, Tablet, Book, question 65 (site: 306) ; Raj’at (Return) and Its Features); question 5774 (site: 6014) and 3006 (site: 3578) ; The Return of Prophets, Imams, question 5884 (site: 8995)).

10. Shia does not consider all the companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) as just. There were different types of people amongst the companions. Some were just and some were hypocrites. Their fatwa (verdict) are not authoritative and valid for anyone. For further reading vide: Justice of All the Companions, question 5920 (site: 6136)).

B) Laws:

1. Taqiyah (dissimulation) is permissible according to Shia. For more details see: Tarawih Prayers and Taqiyah, question 7286 (site: 7804) ; Reasons behind Taqiyah of the Imams (a.s.) question No. 1779 (site: 2132) ; question 3022 (site: 4099) .

2. Mut’ah (Fixed-time marriage) is permissible according to Shiite viewpoint. For further explanation, see: A Study of the Ahadith (Traditions) on Mut’ah, question 3320 (site: 4098) ; Fixed-time Marriage and Peacefulness, No. 2925 (site: 3130) ; Fixed-time marriage in the Quran and Sira of the Infallibles No.6146 (site: 6348).

3. The gate of Ijtihad is open according to Shia.

4. Shia does not accept ta’sib and awl [1] in inheritance.

5. According to Shia, combining between two prayers is permissible. For further explanation, see: The Sira of the Prophet and the Imams in combining between Zuhr and Asr prayers, 9346 (site: 9329).

6. “Hayya ‘ala Khayril ‘Amal” (Hasten to the best acts) is a part of the Adhan.

7. It is permissible to visit the Infallible Imams’ graves (we believe that not only visiting graves is not shirk (idolatrous) but it is very much a monotheistic act and there is a lot of reward in it.). For further explanation, you can refer to the following answers on our website: “The Differences and Commonalties between Shia and Sunni Schools of Thought on Mahism, question 1425 (site: 1708) ; Particulars and Features of Shia, question 4942 (site: 9686); and also books written in this regard including: Al-Jawame’ wal-Fawareq bayn al-Sunnah wa al-Shia by Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah; Ma’a al-Shia al-Imamiyah fi Aqaedehim, by Ayatollah Ja’far Subhani, Islamic Beliefs in the Light of the School of Ahlalbayt by Ayatollah Ja’far Subhani.



[1] - The principle of 'awl (proportionate reduction) is applied by Sunni jurists when the estate of the deceased is 'oversubscribed' by Quranic heirs. Ta'sib is applied by Sunni jurisprudence to give priority to male agnates as heirs, and this results in many mathematical complexities in their system of inheritance. The only really significant difference between the Shi'ah and Sunni schools of jurisprudence in the laws of inheritance concerns the principles of "'awl" and "ta'sib". The Imamiyah jurisprudents have proved by means of ahadith from the Ahlu 'l-bayt (a.s.) that there is no 'awl or ta'sib in the matter of inheritance. This was also the opinion held by the great companions of the Holy Prophet. The well-known statement of Ibn 'Abbas in which he speaks against 'awl and ta'sib can be taken as authoritative. There are also other grounds of proof for negating these two principles.

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